Resident Evil is a franchise built on breathless suspense.
Impeccable music and audio design have been as foundational to the series’ success as zombies and puzzle-filled mansions. Be it the chilling ambient sounds of Raccoon City in Resident Evil 3, the uniquely unsettling “Wreckage of the Mad Experiment” in RE2, or even the cryptic implementation of “Moonlight Sonata” in the 1996 original, sound and music — or lack thereof — has immeasurably enriched the atmosphere of this consistently intense gaming experience across the past quarter-century.
Sure, there have been a handful of questionable choices — the insatiable funk-rock of RE2's “Scenario B Ending” is a prime example of a bone-chillingly poor creative choice. But as far as missteps go, nothing trumps the bizarre revisions to the soundtrack for the PlayStation's Resident Evil Director's Cut: DualShock Edition.
The story behind this curious misstep is even stranger, and the 25th anniversary of the original Resident Evil is a fine time to revisit one of the oddest chapters in the series’ history. Here’s how Mamoru Samuragochi, the disgraced composer once known as Japan’s Beethoven, left his mark on the iconic survival horror franchise.
Wind back to 1997: Resident Evil had been a smash hit on the PlayStation a year prior, and speculation about the game's highly publicized sequel was rampant. But Resident Evil 2 was stuck in development hell. Eventually, this stagnant, unfinished incarnation (now referred to as Resident Evil 1.5) would be scrapped entirely and rebuilt from the start.
In an attempt to placate bloodthirsty fans, Capcom released Resident Evil: Director's Cut in late 1997. It featured a new re-arranged mode, multiple difficulty options, and other superficial design revisions. But series producer Shinji Mikami regretted not updating the soundtrack. So when Resident Evil Director's Cut: DualShock Edition was greenlit the following year to take advantage of the new controller’s vibration functions, Capcom commissioned a shiny new symphonic soundtrack to enhance the experience.
Who better to provide that extra layer of atmosphere than "the Japanese Beethoven"?
The Young People's Chorus of New York City under the direction of Francisco J. Núñez performs "Requiem Hiroshima" by Mamoru Samuragochi live at Shinjyuku Bunka Center in Tokyo, Japan in 2013.
Samuragochi was chosen to replace the resplendent work of original composers Makoto Tomozawa, Koichi Hiroki, and Masami Ueda. The son of an atomic bomb survivor, Samuragochi was born in Hiroshima in 1963. He could play the works of Beethoven and Bach on the piano by the age of ten, he claimed. In a 2001 interview for Time, he said that "losing my hearing was a gift from God."
His heritage and talent would later make him the subject of a 2013 television documentary. Melody of the Soul follows the composer around tsunami-stricken Tohoku, meeting survivors who had lost relatives in the 2011 disaster. Around the same time, an 80-minute Tokyo Symphony Orchestra performance of his work titled Symphony No. 1 Hiroshima became a classical music hit. These were lofty heights to be reached by any video game composer — let alone one with hearing loss.
An unusual sound
The music Samuragochi turned in for Resident Evil Director's Cut: DualShock Edition back in 1998 was… interesting, to say the least.
In some cases, it was arguably superior to the original soundtrack. Take “Mansion First Floor,” a tower of brooding strings that effectively embodies the sense of nervous terror within the desolate Spencer Mansion. “Where’s Wesker,” meanwhile, with its de-tuned clock chimes and melancholy tone, provides an unexpected emotional underpinning during a pivotal cutscene.
But DualShock Edition is not cherished for these works. Rather, fans remember the game for a smattering of musical abominations that destroy the mood, spoil the atmosphere, and even convey the sense that the composer wasn't able to write music at all.
“Wesker’s Theme” transforms the game's most engrossing character into a Scooby-Doo villain. “Plant 42” sounds like a keyboard being injected with the series’ mutagenic T-Virus. Most remarkably of all, “Mansion Basement” boasts no musical ingenuity whatsoever — as if it were penned by the franchise’s villainous Umbrella Corporation itself.
The YouTube comments tell you all you need to know about that final track:
"When you use mayonnaise as an instrument."
“If Comic Sans was a song, this is what it would sound like.”
"When you flush the toilet, but the water starts rising."
“Clowns farting in the basement.”
“Mansion Basement,” a notable howler from Samuragochi’s Resident Evil: Director’s Cut Dualshock Edition score.
School for scandal
Samuragochi wasn't jacked up on a more potent variant of Resident Evil’s restorative green herbs. As it turns out, he wasn't a composer at all. And he wasn't deaf, either. Stranger still, he managed to keep up this ruse for 16 years, even after the game’s soundtrack exposed his shortcomings.
Doubts were raised over Samuragochi's disability in 2014, when weekly magazine AERA published a damning report on the composer. During an interview, he had been observed to answer questions before the sign language interpreter had finished translating. He was also said to have answered the doorbell immediately to receive a taxi once the session had finished.
The game was up. In February 2014, a part-time Toho Gakuen University musical department lecturer named Takashi Niigaki went public in an hour-long television press conference. Niigaki revealed he had been penning tunes for the imposter composer for 18 years.
He told reporters he'd been paid just seven million yen (under $80,000) for over 20 composed works — the Resident Evil Director's Cut: DualShock Edition soundtrack among them. He'd chosen to stay out of the limelight initially so as not to disturb his teaching career. As Samuragochi became famous, Niigaki raised concerns. In response, Samuragochi threatened to take his own life if Niigaki stopped working for him. Niigaki called his bluff, revealing to the world that Samuragochi was, in fact, a musically unskilled imposter whose hearing worked just fine.
Samuragochi apologized for his deceit — but it was a half-hearted response. "I am deeply ashamed of living a lie," he wrote in a hand-written note sent to the media, adding that "the truth is, that recently I have begun to hear a little again."
The fallout was, understandably, catastrophic for Samuragochi. Record label Nippon Columbia withdrew his CDs and DVDs from the shelves, and publisher Tokyo Hustle canceled the scheduled releases of three further scores. In perhaps the most humiliating act of all, the mayor of Hiroshima threatened to strip Samuragochi of the "citizen's award" granted to him for promoting the city's message of nuclear disarmament.
"We are aghast," Mayor Kazumi Matsui told daily newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun that month.
In the years since this sensational reveal, Samuragochi has disappeared from the public eye. From a certain point of view, his perished career has been reanimated through Niigaki, who has become a popular and acclaimed composer in his own right. Last year, Niigaki announced plans to open Shibuya Music College, an online college allowing students to take as many courses as desired for a monthly fee of 980 yen ($9). The hero, it seems, has prevailed in this story.
Resident Evil also managed to recover from the embarrassment of Samuragochi’s dubious contributions. Original composers Tomozawa, Hiroki, and Ueda returned for RE2 and RE3 in the nineties, later updating their score for 2002’s Resident Evil REmake on the GameCube. The Samuragochi score was bypassed entirely, relegated to the flesh-rotting grounds of the creaking Spencer Mansion.
For the forthcoming Resident Evil Village, the score is safely in the hands of Shusaku Uchiyama — a lead composer for the franchise with credits including Resident Evil 4 and the RE2 remake. For the latter, he was awarded the 'Best Audio' category at the 2019 Golden Joystick Awards — it seems Capcom learned their lesson for good.
But if in 25 years' time it turns out that Hideo Kojima's never touched the X button, or Super Mario's actually a baker? Well, at least one thing's for sure: Resident Evil did the imposter thing first.